In Search Of… S02E15 Immortality.
We open on footage of people jogging. How to achieve immortality 1970s style! Love it! Nimoy gives speech about the inevitability of death. “Most of us will live for a billion heartbeats,” he says, which is an interesting way of looking at it. He goes on to say that death is less inevitable than it used to be which… look, things are inevitable or they aren’t. It’s not a sliding scale.
Nitpicking aside, the scene has a tragic quality to it. The footage of the joggers is slowed slightly, and the rhythmic tick of the electronic music combined with Nimoy’s talk of aging puts a sad pall over the attempt of these young people to stay fit and healthy. The fact that the youngest of these moustachioed, be-sideburned joggers would now be in his sixties just adds to the sadness, the – yes – inevitability of their doomed attempt to keep the reaper from the door.
Twenty-two seconds in, and I seem to have become a downer. Must stop watching French cinema before bedtime.
Next up is a montage. It’s only a few seconds but it goes: centrifuge, cracking an egg, old man’s eye, someone’s nose being pulled, boiling water, man with pads on his eyes, syringe, bikini-clad woman frolicking in water, kitten, bald guy using a microscope, cells dividing, container leaking mist, a scientist with something wrapped in plastic, mice, old man’s nose and eyes, pipette, shirtless man jogging.
It’s the best foreshadowing ever!
The artiness continues with footage of moving gears, a starter’s pistol, moving gears, pistol goes off, joggers get going. And they’re proper 1970s joggers too, none of your modern-day knock-offs. They wear white singlets, blue short-shorts and socks halfway up their shins, the way God intended.
Nimoy says that we grow towards a peak of physical vitality before beginning to wear out. “A new awareness of physical fitness may help prolong our yours of health and vigour,” Nimoy says. Lounging in my comfy chair, I eat another chip, nod my head sagely, and scratch my behind. Nimoy goes into greater detail about the physiological changes of aging. There’s some medical footage of bones and organs, while Nimoy talks about decay. I’d almost rather a French movie round about now.
Now we’re in the studio while Nimoy talks about the grim reality of growing old, and I’m thinking of how the poor guy looked in Star Trek: Beyond. “The visible sign of wear and decline become more and more apparent.” Shot of setting sun. Shot of sad looking old man.
Moving onto black and white footage of wild looking guy doing something weird, while Nimoy talks about alchemy. Aaah! That’s my beloved crazy! That’ll cheer me up! The movie looks cool, some old German silent. Wonder what it is?
Next up Serge Voronoff. Eeeee! Voronoff was a Russian scientist who tried to restore the lost youth of men by transplanting ape and monkey testicles onto them. Believe it or not, this didn’t work. Nimoy claims that the technique also caused subjects to come down with chimp syphilis. This is news to me — but hilarious, if true.
Bikini clad woman frolicking on beach. Youth, I guess? And then several minutes of boredom. We’re looking at a health spa in the Bahamas. I’m not a health spa guy, but most of it looks pretty straightforward – steam baths, massages, putting goop on faces. Even Nimoy’s narration doesn’t make this bit interesting. Even the mention of chicken embryo cocktails and injections of foetal lamb cells isn’t all that cool. There’s an interview with the spa’s medical director, which sounds more like a sales pitch than useful information.
And now we’re looking at rats. Nice rats, not your sewer kind. None of your riff-raff. Nimoy tells about a 1932 experiment where rats lived longer on a low calorie diet. The reason is unknown. Segue to the lab of Dr Paul Siegel at UC Berkeley, who has also made rats live longer, with a low protein diet. Dr Siegel’s a young man, but he does have the thick glasses and excessively intense demeanour that comic books assure me is essential in a man trying to create super-rats.
Basically, his theory is that dietary change affects the brain chemistry of rats, which in turn affect the signals the brain sends to control the aging process. He gives a little speech to that effect. If you took that element out of context, it could look like a part from a ’70s indie horror movie where a scientist explains his theory into his own camera, just before accidentally creating a rat-human hybrid.
Joggers. Woman running on beach. Nimoy claims that if we could retain the vitality of a twenty year old all of our life, we’d live eight hundred years. And now we’re looking at a framed drawing of King Tut’s mask. Pull back, and we’re in the lab of Dr Roy Walford at UCLA. His research looks less Batmanesque than Dr Siegel. Walford sees aging as a decline of the immune system – or as Nimoy keeps saying ‘the immunity system’. Nice microscope footage of cells. Pretty.
And now white gloved hands are messing with mice. Something about injections to suppress the mouse’s immune system. Honestly, the look on the poor little thing’s face is too distracting. Two mice that have lived on different diets are compared. One seems fine, the other is covered in tumors.
Sometimes, I don’t like this show.
One of Dr Walford’s other experiments is two mice grafted together… I take it back! Sorry, Dr Siegel, Dr Walford is just as likely to try to hold Gotham City to ransom as you are. Maybe more likely! Apparently, the blood of the younger mouse is supposed to improve the health of the older mouse.
And? Okay, anyone over forty reading this, which would you prefer: A) a slow decline into poor health, senility and death or B) to have a friggin’ teenager sewn to your person?
Death? Or having some smug little know-it-all rolling their eyes at you every time you look in the mirror? I think most of us would choose option A. If you chose option B, then what can I say but ‘Hello, Mr Trump.’
More shots of lab work. Talking now to Dr Hayflick, who apparently discovered that human cells can divide a maximum number of times. Of all the scientists in this episode, Dr Hayflick is the absolutely least likely to say ‘Do not mock me, Spider-Man!’ in the course of an average day. He believes that there are good reasons why the normal human lifespan cannot (and possibly should not) be extended greatly, but that it might be possible to extend proportion of that lifespan in which people retain their good health and vitality.
Dr Hayflick’s measured, low key ideas on aging and dry humour are of course followed by a segment on cryogenics. Sigh. Art Quaith, the operator of a Californian cryonics facility is interviewed. He’s a balding guy with a moustache and a white coat. If you didn’t know the contect, you might think you were watching one of those shows where you go into an industrial sausage plant and talk to the workers. Instead, he explains the basic of cryonics: freeze dead people until some unspecified future time when medical technology can cure them.
There are so many things wrong with the idea. This is in America, after all, where there the gap between ‘illnesses medical technology can cure’ and ‘patients that society is willing assist’ is bigger than anywhere else in the developed world. But maybe in this magical future, that’ll be fixed too, hahaha, no.
Anyway, Quaith is talking about two people who just got frozen. Walt Disney isn’t one of them, unfortunately. Also, Quaith looks a little better in closeup. He has a sort of Timothy Dalton quality to him, which distracts from the receding hairline.
Back to the rats. No, it’s a hamster. It’s ‘painlessly put to death’. Frozen and packed in ice, Dr Siegel and a lab assistant (who has an ‘Amy from Big Bang Theory’ kind of vibe to her) warm the frozen hamster until its heart starts again. It starts to twitch and comes back to life. This hamster has apparently been frozen to death and restored five times. Dr Siegel and his assistant then give these ‘awwww, cute’ looks, which seem a little incongruous, under the circumstances.
Nimoy claims that this means that the boundaries between life and death are becoming less distinct, and so maybe people will one day be able to come back from being frozen. Yeah. See, some animals have physiologies that make them better able than ours to deal with low temperatures and… You know what? Whatever. You died and came back, Spock. That’s enough for me. Nimoy sums up, repeating his claims that aging has become controllable. He ends by saying that one day we may ‘live forever, and never grow old.’
In our hearts, Leonard, you do live forever — in our hearts.
Dr Hayflick: “It’s pointless to have as our goal… increasing the length of time we spend on this planet simply for the sake of increasing the time. I think it’s important to consider… how that time is spent. If we’re to spend it with an additional ten years of infirmities of old age, I don’t think that’s desirable. If we’re to spend it with ten years of vigour and activity both physical and mental then that is the kind of goal we should strive for.”
Jogging: 7/10, Random shots of woman at beach: 7/10, Nimoyness: 8/10, Sadness: 8/10, Interesting episode: 2/10. Overall: 32/50. Pass.
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